January 2022 Intern’s Corner

As many of you may already know, First UU is seeking volunteers who are interested in helping to sponsor a family of Afghan refugees. We are hoping to form a group of dedicated volunteers who can participate in the International Rescue Committee of Richmond’s HOME Program for sponsorship. Details about that program can be found here. To offer a brief overview, the HOME program is split into several steps, and volunteers can engage with the process throughout or with whichever specific steps they prefer. The first step is applying with the IRC, completing a background check, and being interviewed, followed by an orientation that they offer. From there we would begin the process of fundraising. Within about 2 to 8 weeks the IRC would assign us a family. Once we find out the number of people in the family and the range of dates they’re expected to arrive, we could begin either buying apartment items or doing a donation drive to gather the items needed to furnish the family’s new apartment. From there, a group of volunteers would transport the items to the apartment and set them up. When the family arrives at the airport, another small group of volunteers would be responsible for welcoming them with a culturally appropriate hot meal. Finally, several volunteers would be responsible for providing weekly mentorship to the family. This may involve tasks such as practicing English, teaching budgeting skills, helping to make doctor’s appointments, lessons in using public transportation, going grocery shopping, or helping with whatever the family may need specifically. The mentorship takes place over 6 months and is really designed to help the family learn how to navigate our culture. There are also some contactless volunteer opportunities for folks who are not able to take a direct role.

We have received a great response so far and are preparing to move forward with this project soon. To everyone who has already responded, thank you for your support! Please be on the lookout for an email from me in the first week of February with information about the next steps in this process and how you can continue to be involved.

If you’d like to volunteer but have not yet signed up please use the Sign Up Genius link here.


Intern’s Corner: Afghan refugees

More than 120,000 people fled Kabul after the US withdrew from Afghanistan, and more than 15,000 refugees from Afghanistan were temporarily housed on military bases in Virginia[1]. While they await resettlement, which is currently expected to take about one year, they have many pressing needs from medical care to cultural training, to simply needing clothing that is culturally appropriate. Currently, many organizations are working with the government to address these needs, though there is ample room for volunteers and further intervention such as drives for necessary items. Eventually, the Afghan people living on military bases will be resettled as their visa applications are processed.

Resettlement has been an ongoing process and more than 9,000 Afghan refugees are currently being resettled across the country.[2] During resettlement, families are assigned to resettlement agencies, who in turn partner with local organizations interested in sponsorship. This approach provides some much-needed support to families by helping them secure housing, employment, and social services in addition to connecting them with critical community supports and mentorship. In Virginia, the International Rescue Committee and Commonwealth Catholic Charities are the primary organizations working to resettle refugees. Government assistance with resettlement is limited and involves a one-time payment that remains the same regardless of family size. Families being resettled can include up to seven individuals, and money is far from being the only concern of this population.

Many of these individuals struggle with the combined stress of trying to build a life in an entirely new culture, worries about friends and family still in Afghanistan, and potential traumatic stress they may have experienced while fleeing conflict. These factors may provide challenges, but the single biggest, and most underutilized, protective factor that helps refugees adapt is a strong sense of community connection.[3] Social support helps to mitigate stress, and for refugees that support can make an impact. Navigating a new culture is not easy, and being able to ask people in the community questions about how to get a driver’s license, what to wear to a job interview, or how to navigate social services can make the process much easier.

[1] https://www.whsv.com/2021/10/10/new-executive-team-help-1200-refugees-settle-virginia/

[2] https://www.military.com/daily-news/2021/10/20/9000-afghan-refugees-have-left-military-bases-new-homes-aid-vets-groups.html

[3] https://doi-org.proxy.library.vcu.edu/10.1080/10852352.2019.1633066